One of the most common questions I get asked is, “When should I start using a belt?”, “If I start using a belt, won’t it make my core weaker?”
To be honest I’m surprised I haven’t answered this sooner. But before we dive into when you should use a belt, let me first explain how belts work and why we use them. A weight lifting belts main function is to increase the intraabdominal pressure created by the lifter through bracing and breathing to provide stability to your lumber spine and prevent spinal flexion. In short, it’s going to stop you from collapsing forward when you squat or pick up something heavy from the floor. So, if the lifter, or yourself are unsure of how to breathe and brace correctly, belts are useless in what you are trying to achieve, which is a more stable and powerful lift.
Belts should be the same width all the way around, the important part of the belt is actually the front. Yes, it supports our core and lower back through increasing stability, but it actually does this through providing more force applied through our front abdominals. So, your typical bodybuilder belt will actually provide little to no support, even if they are super padded at the back and “comfy”. Belts too tight will again have the opposite effect of what we are wanting from the belt and work against you. To test where the belt should be positioned; take a breath, brace and place the belt where you feel it push back and restrict your braced abs.
So now that we know how belts work, you are probably still asking, “Ok but when do I add one into my training?” There are many arguments for using a belt early on and not using one at all. As a coach, I see it from both sides. I typically use a very loose belt with new clients to force them to breath and brace correctly, (along with additional bracing training techniques). Most I find need the extra cue of having something around them to brace efficiently. Once they nail the braced position, the belt will not be used for a while to emphasize on teaching and learning how to stabilise and move weight efficiently without it. As a more experienced lifter or gym goer, I would urge you to use a belt when hitting the top sets of your training sessions and commit to doing beltless work as well.
Essentially, those who wear a belt for their entire session (including warm ups) will become reliant on the additional force and pressure it creates. I suggest doing all warm ups beltless until you are hitting working sets or up above 75-80% of your max. At the end of the day, belts are a tool to help aid and increase performance but must be used correctly along with efficient bracing techniques!
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